September 2, 2011

A Critique of FourSquare and LocalMind

  —A look at the FourSquare and LocalMind iPhone applications.

I recently experimented with FourSquare and LocalMind. Both are interesting concepts. If my experience with FourSquare on the iPhone 3GS is any indication then this application still needs a lot of work to improve the user experience and reduce power consumption.

LocalMind improves FourSquare because user interaction is simpler. LocalMind takes advantage of your check-in through FourSquare—if your LocalMind account has permission to access your FourSquare account. This means that you can check-in with FourSquare and LocalMind can publish your check-in and make it available to other LocalMind users.
My major complaint with the FourSquare iPhone application is the time it takes to check-in and the amount of battery power consumed while running it. The issue with battery consumption seems to be tied to the FourSquare's use of Geo Location. The entire time the application is active it is using Geo Location to bring up nearby businesses.

FourSquare makes the user work hard to check-in. To check-in, the application has to find your location, then you need to scroll through the list of nearby places and select the one where you want to check-in. If the place you want to check-in isn't listed in your nearby locations you have to add it.

The first place I wanted to check-in had many different locations with the same name. A few didn’t include addresses so I had to use the map to try and find the one I wanted. On the map, the nearest location showed up over 1 km away. This meant that I had to add the place to FourSquare or forget about my check-in. I choose to add the place and then check-in. Adding locations can be time consuming depending upon how much information you want to provide.

FourSquare's reliance on users to add locations is a problem. Not everyone takes the time to place the location on the map or add the complete address and major intersection. The iPhone application only displays city and province, not intersection. Without complete address information the map can show the wrong location for a place.

I discovered later, using the web application, that the place I added was a duplicate of another place. Surprisingly, there doesn’t seem to be anyway to remove duplicates—I couldn’t delete the location I created or modify the original location so that its address and location on the map were correct.

I really question the value proposition of FourSquare—as a user I had to work hard to use of the iPhone application and the only benefit was to put a place on the map. A place that would have been there if the business saw value in what FourSquare offers. The benefit to me, a user, was pretty much nil.

My experience with LocalMind wasn't much better. My check-in at a local restaurant elicited one question which I answered. My karma count increased and that was it. The question was about the food. Not sure what else you could do with LocalMind other than ask questions like this--it lends itself to "is it busy", "how's the food", "how's the service", etc. Easy questions to ask, but again I'm left with the question of what the value proposition is for these applications.

LocalMind stores the question and answer I provided so that other people see it. So what? Questions relating to how busy and the service are irrelevant almost as soon as you answer them and questions relating to the food are only less so. Again I'm left wondering what the value proposition is for the user? I'm working pretty hard here trying to answer questions and who is benefiting? Perhaps the person who is asking the question and possibly the business owner. I say possibly because it really depends upon what I say.

My experience with LocalMind left me wondering about simple questions like where the person who asked the question was located. I couldn't tell from their profile and really had no idea about whether they were even local. Perhaps they were but I have no way of telling. You have to assume they are local based upon their interest.

I think a major disadvantage of these applications is their user base. Their value is really tied to the network effect--the more people in your area who are using the application the more benefit everyone derives. I think a substantial portion of return on using these applications rests with the business owners, if they choose to take advantage of it and it's clear that only a few types of businesses actually benefit from these applications. For example, I did a check-in at a gas station just to see what kinds of activity the place had and was surprised to see a lot of check-ins. 

I'm at a loss of why you would choose to check-in at a gas station--unless you work there you are only there for a few minutes. Who would actually take the time to ask if there are line ups? My restaurant check-in is more in line with the use case that these applications support. Clubs as well.

In all, I'm left wondering what these applications would be like if large numbers of people where using them--if you were in a large city and into the bar and restaurant scene these applications are probably a lot more fun. If you are in a smaller city all you accomplish is communicating your location at places where there are too few people around to care.

In all, these applications remind me of the questions that people used to ask about how to use Twitter. You may recall, people Tweeting what they had for lunch… these applications pose similar problems but attempt to more directly capture the value proposition for the local businesses. I still don't care what you had for lunch and I'm not willing to work this hard when the only local businesses benefit. If the user base is small the whole exercise is pointless.


The LocalMind website is offline. The LocalMind URL above is a capture by the Internet Archive from when this article was published.
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